A week after asking a court to grant her an emergency abortion upon learning that her fetus has a fatal condition, Texas woman Kate Cox has been forced to flee the state to obtain the procedure, the group representing her in court announced shortly before the state Supreme Court ruled against her on Monday.
At the end of last month, 31-year-old Cox was told that her fetus has Trisomy 18, a fatal condition in which a pregnancy will either end in miscarriage or the baby dying a few days after being born. Cox has already been to the emergency room four times in relation to the pregnancy, and argued that her life and health, including her ability to have another baby, were being put in danger by continuing the pregnancy.
After a lower court granted Cox the ability to obtain the procedure in the state last week, the state Supreme Court swiftly blocked the order after state Attorney General Ken Paxton, in a flurry of actions, worked to sabotage any avenue for Cox to get an abortion in the state with threats of prosecution.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented Cox in court, said on Monday that she was no longer able to wait for the procedure and is leaving the state to seek care.
“This past week of legal limbo has been hellish for Kate,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Her health is on the line. She’s been in and out of the emergency room and she couldn’t wait any longer. This is why judges and politicians should not be making healthcare decisions for pregnant people — they are not doctors. This is the result of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade: women are forced to beg for urgent healthcare in court.”
Shortly after the announcement, the Texas Supreme Court, whose nine judges are all Republicans, ruled against Cox. Texas’s strict abortion ban technically contains exceptions for life-saving abortions or when a pregnancy threatens “substantial impairment of major bodily function.” But the court ruled that her doctors’ assessments that continuing the pregnancy could result in diabetes, a life-threatening uterine rupture, or the loss of her ability to carry a child did not fall within the ban’s supposed exceptions.
“Some difficulties in pregnancy, … even serious ones, do not pose the heightened risks to the mother the exception encompasses,” the court wrote in a seven-page decision.
Though the judges claimed in the decision that they respect medical professionals’ judgements in abortion cases, they also undermined Cox’s doctor’s statement that she believes the abortion would have been necessary — and added that doctors’ judgments are “subjective” and subject, apparently, to the discretion of judges to determine their legitimacy.
“Dr. [Damla] Karsan asserted that she has a ‘good faith belief’ that Ms. Cox meets the exception’s requirements,” the judges acknowledged, going on to say that they didn’t believe Karsan’s statements met their requirements of being “good faith” medical judgment.
“Certainly, a doctor cannot exercise ‘reasonable medical judgment’ if she does not hold her judgment in good faith. But the statute requires that judgment be a ‘reasonable medical’ judgment, and Dr. Karsan has not asserted that her ‘good faith belief’ about Ms. Cox’s condition meets that standard,” they continued.
The decision has sparked outrage and despair. “If Kate can’t get an abortion in Texas, who can?” senior staff attorney for Center for Reproductive Rights Molly Duane said to NBC. “Kate’s case is proof that exceptions don’t work, and it’s dangerous to be pregnant in any state with an abortion ban.”
Political commentators have noted that Cox’s case has shown that abortion bans aren’t about being “pro-life,” but rather instilling fear and exercising total control over people’s health.
“The success of Paxton’s odious, self-aggrandizing threats against Cox, her doctors and her supporters reveals a state gleefully reveling in anticipation of the chance to destroy the lives and livelihoods of Texans who demonstrate themselves to be insufficiently cowed by Texas’ abortion bans,” journalist and activist Andrea Grimes wrote in an MSNBC op-ed.
“In fact, we should really consider the possibility that the attorney general targeted Cox not despite her condition but precisely because her pregnancy poses serious danger,” Grimes went on. “Her experience belies practically every so-called pro-life claim ever made about abortion bans and their effects — especially the assertion that ‘exceptions’ will always ensure people in need will be able to access care.”
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